The Layoff Diaries: Going dark

12573942_10153465019147632_7273749574340761564_nA week and a day after my layoff, I sat in a neighborhood hair salon and considered, for the first time ever, going brunette.

When I’d made the appointment, I’d planned to get my usual blond highlights and a cut, so that if and when I actually had a job interview, I’d look more put-together than I actually am. But I already wasn’t feeling like myself, being out of work for the first time in nearly 12 years. Did I really need a physical, external change, too?

Well, yeah. I guess I did.

I wanted the world to somehow get tipped off to this otherwise painfully invisible, seismic change that’s now underway inside of me, as an inevitable result of this layoff. Yes, I’m laboring to do all the things you do to see yourself through a mini-unemployment crisis – overhauling my resume, writing cover letters, updating my LinkedIn page – but it still feels like I’m floating through these days. I have plenty to do to keep myself busy, but I miss my coworkers, and the energetic hum of the newsroom, and the satisfaction that comes from writing and publishing stories daily.

So although I hadn’t considered a significant hair color change until I was sitting in that chair, I found myself – when my stylist said, “What would you think of going darker?” – nodding and saying, “Yeah. Let’s do it.”

At this point, I should note that I’m not a person who makes broad changes of any kind in regard to my appearance. I’ve never gone through a phase of strange or different hair colors (though I’ve been tempted upon reaching middle age); my clothing is far more comfy than chic; I don’t wear makeup; and I have no tattoos – hell, I never even bothered to pierce my ears. I always liked the idea of asking the world to accept me precisely as I am, by nature.

But guess what? Going “natural” now just might hinder my job prospects.

Yes, my stylist and I chose a shade of dark chestnut that would mask the gray in my hair, since I now have to, on top of everything else, worry about appearing to be “too old” in my job interviews. I don’t generally kvetch about aging, but I must admit, being forced to think about this definitely adds to the humiliation of being unemployed. (Tellingly, I was tempted to write in my cover letter, “Sorry in advance for not being a Millenial, but if you’ve got a VHS player lying around, I’m your girl.”)

When my stylist brushed and blow dried my hair, I stared at her station’s mirror uncomprehendingly. The skin on my forehead looked red and irritated from the eyebrow wax, so at least that much was familiar. But the dark, shoulder-length mop on my head looked more like a stylish wig than something that was now part of my body.

So often, you want big shifts in your life to not threaten or change the person you’ve worked so hard to become. I remember desperately hoping to maintain a sense of my hard-won identity after we had kids, for example. But it was ludicrous, of course, to expect or even hope for such a thing. Becoming a parent can’t not change you, since the center point of your whole life shifts.

In that same vein, losing a job that you poured your heart and soul into for more than a decade can’t not change you, either. My family and friends will certainly help me stay rooted, but professionally, I’m on my way to destinations unknown.

And as a nod of acquiescence to this truth, I now look more like the stranger I suddenly feel myself to be.

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The Layoff Diaries: Down the rabbit-hole

caterpillar

I’m a lifelong skeptic, so I have great difficulty explaining why, on a fairly consistent basis, I stumble upon things in my reading life that address, in an uncanny way, something I’m experiencing right at that very moment.

For instance, last year, when my father-in-law had a handful of long stints in the hospital, and I was on my own with the girls one night because it looked like he might be facing his final hours, Lily randomly chose (for her reading practice) this Shel Silverstein poem from the collection, “Falling Up”:

Stork Story

You know the stork brings babies,
But did you also know
He comes and gets the older folks
When it’s their time to go?

Zooms right down and scoops them up,
Then flaps back out the door
And flies them to the factory where
They all were made before.

And there their skin is tightened up,
Their muscles all are toned,
Their wrinkles all are ironed out,
They’re given brand-new bones.

Ol’ bent backs are straightened up,
New teeth are added, too,
Tired hearts are all repaired
And made to work like new.

Their memories are all removed
And they’re shrunk down, and then
The stork flies them back down to earth
As newborn babes again.

I’ll confess, I struggled mightily to keep myself from sobbing as Lily read these words aloud. My father-in-law had long been suffering from a rare form of skin cancer, so these images of renewal and release and rebirth worked like a salve on an awful night.

And last night, after dinner (and a couple of games of the kids’ version of Apples to Apples), Lily and Neve made tunnels out of the couch cushions and pillows and asked me to read from the book Joe recently started with them: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

You can see where this is going.

The chapter where Joe had left off reading, “The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill,” tells what happens when the White Rabbit mistakes Alice for his housemaid; as she tries to carry out his wishes, she takes a swig from a bottle marked “DRINK ME” and grows so big that Rabbit’s house can barely contain her.

Alice, in this moment, thinks to herself, “I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole – and yet – and yet – it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me!”

You and me both, Alice.

For although I may not have bumped into you on my way down the rabbit-hole, we’re both clearly taking up semi-permanent residency in Wonderland, with all the delights and horrors contained therein.

Indeed, that’s what this strange, surreal post-layoff time ultimately boils down to. There’s sheer terror and worry underlying each day; but there’s also a palpable spark of hope for new adventures, too. You feel more alive than you do before, but at the expense of – well, being able to take care of expenses.

Unlike the days and years that came before, you just have absolutely no idea what’s coming up ahead (looking at you, trippy hookah-smoking caterpillar).

And depending on your mood on a given day, that notion will make you either jump up out of bed or burrow ever deeper under the down comforter.

Out of work, out of whack

jennleaving.jpeg

(This photo was taken on the last day of operations for the original Ann Arbor News in 2009.)

Last Wednesday morning, I stood in front of my closet and asked Joe, “So what do you wear to get fired?”

The line was kind of funny, in a gallows humor way; but this wasn’t just a joke, and I wasn’t speaking hypothetically.

After receiving a late-in-the-day Tuesday email – containing three clues that blinked like a neon sign, pointing to my imminent layoff – I’d stayed up late, uploading the hundreds of videos and photos (mostly of my daughters) from my work-issued phone, and sending documents and contacts I wanted to keep from my laptop.

It was like living out that “If you were stranded on a desert island” scenario, but with your two most essential gadgets.

We tried to hold to our usual morning routine on Wednesday, getting Lily to the bus stop, and dropping Neve off at preschool; but then I stepped back into our quiet, empty house, left to twiddle my thumbs until nearly noon.

Which led to the next question, “What do you do while waiting to get fired?”

I’d thought a bit about this the night before, while frantically uploading, and I’d decided that this would be the perfect window of time to finish up my year-end wrap-up of local theater highlights and news. I was off the clock, and year-end pieces like this had recently gone the way of the dodo, but I’d wanted to do it, anyway.

It would be my swan song, my parting gift to a theater community that had weathered a pretty tough year; and as it happened, this gift was mutually beneficial, in that I felt grateful for being able to focus on pulling together story under a tight deadline – just like old times – and leaving my nearly 12 years in arts journalism with a story that only I could write. Continue reading